A Stone for Willy Fisher


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refute his claim that he was Abel. Informed that there would be a hearing in his case, Fisher selected a local lawyer. Fisher apparently hoped that since the FBI had transported him to Texas, close to the Mexican border, and because he had admitted to be an illegal alien, the US might simply deport him as it had many other illegal entrants. At his hearing, he provided many details (all false) concerning his background. The only correct information he gave was his mother's name and birthplace and that he had departed Moscow in May 1948. In response to the hearing examiner's question; "To what country do you desire to be deported?" he replied, "to the USSR."
On 7 August, Fisher was served with a criminal warrant for his arrest and, after waiving extradition to New York, was designated for trial as a spy amidst a blare of media publicity. After his arraignment, James B. Donovan, a distinguished member of the New York Bar, was appointed by the court as his defense attorney. Donovan, a World War II naval officer who had served with distinction in the Office of Strategic Services, noted at a press conference the difference between the Abel case and the trial of such individuals as the Rosenbergs and Alger Hiss. Donovan said, "If the allegations are true, it means that instead of dealing with Americans who have betrayed their country, we are dealing with a Russian citizen, in a quasi-military capacity, who has served his country on an extraordinarily dangerous mission." Donovan's comment set the tone of mutual professional respect between the lawyer and his client.
The Justice Department prosecuted "Colonel Rudolf Ivanovich Abel" on multiple counts of espionage in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York and on 25 October 1957 the jury found him guilty on three counts. His sentencing was scheduled for 15 November and Attorney Donovan argued against the death penalty by saying:
It is my contention that the interest of justice and the national interests of the United States dictate that the death penalty should not be considered because:
(1) No evidence was introduced by the government to show that the defendant actually gathered or transmitted any information pertaining to the national defense;
(2) Normal justification of the death penalty is its possible effect as a deterrent; it is absurd to believe that the execution of this man would deter the Russian military;
(3) The effect of imposing the death penalty upon a foreign national for a peacetime conspiracy to commit espionage should be weighed by the government with respect to the activities of our own citizens abroad;
(4) To date the government has not received from the defendant what it would regard as cooperation; however, it of course remains possible that in the event of various contingencies this situation would be altered in the future and accordingly it would appear to be in the national interest to keep the man available for a reasonable period of time;


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Posted: May 08, 2007 08:59 AM
Last Updated: Aug 03, 2011 03:02 PM